Brindisi, Tenney fight for populist mantle
When Mohawk Valley Rep. Claudia Tenney (R-New Hartford) held an expensive fundraiser with President Donald Trump in Utica last week, her Democratic opponent Anthony Brindisi threw a rival fundraiser across town. But his goal was more about message than money.
Underneath a large white tent in the parking lot of the Chesterfield Restaurant in Utica, a crowd of 700 people mingled and waited in lines for drinks and Anthony Brindisi for Congress yard signs. The minimum cost to get into this "people-powered fundraiser" was $10. It cost $1,000 to attend the Trump-Tenney reception at the Hotel Utica.
Brindisi says they hosted their event as a way to highlight the differences between the two campaigns.
"Her campaign is one that is funded by well-connected people, corporate special interests - ours is funded by small-dollar, grassroots contributions," Brindisi said. "The people are behind this campaign and it's the people that are going to be the true winners in November, and I'm proud to stand with them."
In a statement, Tenney brushed aside Brindisi's criticism.
"The President's historic visit to the Mohawk Valley is symbolic of the importance him and I place on serving the forgotten people of Upstate New York, who voted for President Trump in Oneida County by 20 points," Tenney said in a statement.
This isn't the first time Brindisi has gone to great lengths in this campaign to position himself as the candidate of what he calls "everyday people." He's held town halls in every county, refuses to take corporate PAC donations and launched an ad criticizing the TV provider Spectrum for raising rates while noting that Tenney has received campaign donations from the company.
In an earlier interview with WRVO, Utica College political science professor Luke Perry described Brindisi's approach as populist in nature.
“He’s positioning himself as someone who’s separate from corporations and not tainted by that influence and will help people in their day-to-day concerns like paying their bills," Perry said.
Perry says that populist-style strategy is a page out of Tenney’s book. Since entering politics in 2010, the Republican has found great success positioning herself as an outsider - even distancing herself from her own party at times. Tenney is trying it again in this race labeling Brindisi as the insider since he's a part of the Democratic-controlled New York State Assembly and is taking campaign donations from Washington, D.C., officials like House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.
“Anthony Brindisi’s campaign is bankrolled by hundreds of thousands from big union bosses, leftwing groups from the DC swamp, and of course, the $14,000 he’s taken from Nancy Pelosi," Tenney said in a statement. "Brindisi is no man of the people, he’s a cog in the corrupt Cuomo/Silver Albany machine.”
But Perry says Tenney may find it challenging to get voters to believe she's the true outsider in this congressional race when Republicans control both the House, Senate and presidency.